The future-oriented pop producer and musician Sophie died on Saturday after an accident in Athens. She was 34 years old. “True to her spirituality,” her family wrote in a statement, “she had risen to watch the full moon and accidentally slipped and fallen.” The story was tragic and beautiful at the same time, full of pain, shock and underneath it an almost otherworldly longing . It was like a Sophie song.
Sophie might not be a household name, but during her brief career she has had a profound and transformative influence on the way modern pop music sounds. Since appearing with her frenetic breakout single “Bipp” in 2013, the Los Angeles-based Scottish producer has worked with artists such as Madonna, Vince Staples and Charli XCX. As a solo artist, Sophie’s pioneering music was perhaps prepared for a major crossover; Her 2018 album “Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides” was nominated for the best dance / electronic album Grammy. Her influence can be heard in both the instant gratification of the hyperpop of 100 gecs and the energetic hooks of the K-pop boom.
Sophie’s production was full of ideas. Where others perceived flat surfaces, she saw oceanic depths – in the musicality of hyperfeminized language, in the heightened honesty of the artificial, in the plastic materials found in late capitalist consumer culture. She had a keen ear for the intersection between the language of desire and the language of modern advertising, and her songs sometimes sounded like commercial jingles from other planets: “If you need something but don’t know what it is, shake the shake Shake it and let it bubble, ”said the contagious“ Vyzee ”ad infinitum.
When she arrived anonymously in the male-dominated world of electronic music, people wondered about Sophie’s gender. At the end of 2017 she announced through interviews and the open-minded synth ballad “It’s Okay to Cry” that she was a transgender woman. Her early singles had taken pleasure in the fluidity of femininity and masculinity, as well as softness and toughness, and suddenly it seemed that the aesthetic she’d played with in her music was related to the private process of becoming yourself. There was beauty in there and a noticeable release as she stepped into the spotlight.
“For me, impermanence takes control to bring your body more into harmony with your soul and spirit, so that the two don’t fight each other and fight for survival,” she said in an interview with Paper Magazine. “On this earth, you can get closer to your true essence without social pressures to fulfill certain traditional roles based on gender. It means that you are not a mother or a father – you are a person who looks at the world and feels the world. “
From her solo material and her production work for other artists, here are some of her key tracks.
In June 2013, “Bipp” appeared out of nowhere on the Scottish electronic label Numbers – out of a void that is as empty and alive as the white background of the cover. The track felt just like a club banger like a mad scientist’s lab experiment. Hyper-processed percussion and cheerleading voices rang each other as if they were both from Flubber. “I can make you feel better if you let me,” intoned a choppy, high-pitched voice, inviting the listener to succumb to the song’s strange promise of ecstasy.
A year later, Sophie released a track that was as explosively bubbly as a Diet Coke and Mentos cocktail. “Lemonade” chose the more polarizing aspects of their aesthetic: the surface sheen was even more synthetic, the singing even higher and the rhythm – which developed from a trap cadence to an accelerated pop hook – was as unpredictable as it was intoxicating.
Electronic music has a reputation for being serious at times, but many of Sophie’s songs crackled with weird humor. “Hard,” the kinetic B-side of “Lemonade,” was among them. It was immediately a creeping, lively tactile ode to BDSM – “latex gloves, clap so hard” – and a clever joke about the gender-specific binary representation when an ultra-tight, helium-like voice intoned: “Hard, hard, I understand so hard.”
QT, ‘Hey QT’ (2014)
Until 2014, Sophie was closely associated with PC Music, a vibrant British collective of electronic musicians and producers who combine the vaults of the avant-garde with the serious mass catharsis of pop music product. QT was a short-lived project that paired Sophie with PC Music’s figurehead and producer, AG Cook, along with Hayden Frances Dunham, who “played” a pop star named QT who also happened to be the spokesperson for an invented energy elixir called DrinkQT.
The song is a cheering sugar rush, but some skeptics wondered if Sophie and Cook were too bogged down by ideas and irony, alienating potential listeners in the process. Sophie confused her critics even more when “Lemonade” was featured in a 2015 web commercial for… McDonald’s Lemonade. “People were angry,” Sophie recalled in a vulture interview a few years later. “But I don’t think that endangers anything in the music.” She added, “If you can do two things with it, give it meaning to yourself according to the perspectives you want to share and make it work in the mass market as well, and therefore put your message across to more people less elitist context. then this is an ideal place. “
“Just like we never said goodbye” (2015)
When she gave her singles collection the cheeky, Warholian title “Product” in 2015, Sophie winked again at the perceived gap between art and consumer culture. But his final track – the gripping and glitzy millennial pop heartbreaker “Just Like We Never Said Goodbye” – was a preview of what would come out of their later solo material, and proof that she, as much as she, was Ideas gave up, this too was an experienced conjurer of great, sincere emotions.
Madonna with Nicki Minaj, ‘Bitch I’m Madonna’ (2015)
In 2015, Sophie’s innovative sound had crept so far into the mainstream that even the Material Girl wanted a track herself. “Bitch I’m Madonna”, the delightfully bold single from the 13th studio album by pop superstar “Rebel Heart”, remains perhaps the best-known track Sophie has worked on. Although she has shared a written credit with half a dozen other employees and the structure of the choir is audibly given the time stamp Diplo from 2010, the verses with plastic affect, the bouncing prechoir and the spirited self-referentiality bear the clear characteristics of Sophie.
Charli XCX, “Vroom Vroom” (2016)
Charli XCX turned out to be a sympathetic pop collaborator and muse. She and Sophie worked together on a handful of bubbly, one-off tracks – “No Angel”, “Girls Night Out” – as well as Charli’s entire experimental EP “Vroom Vroom” for 2016. This sleek and kinetic title track is like a custom ride for Charli’s distinctive musical personality built.
Vince Staples with Kendrick Lamar, ‘Yeah Right’ (2017)
Although Sophie worked with pop artists more than rappers, she produced two tracks on Compton MC Vince Staples’ 2017 album Big Fish Theory, including Yeah Right (which also featured contributions from Australian DJ and producer Flume). After Kendrick Lamar sent in his guest verse, Sophie told Paper Magazine, “We edited the vocals and tried to overproduce the song. They wanted it a little rougher, but then they left it anyway and people liked it. Vince played it all along. “
“It’s okay to cry” (2017)
The poignant first single from Sophie’s “Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides” was something of a coming-out party. Stepping out of the hazy shadows of her early work, Sophie put herself and her head of carrot-red hair at the center of the project – she sang lead vocalist and starred in the song’s music video, which was vulnerable and vampy at the same time. “I hope you don’t get this wrong,” she sang on a shimmering synth arpeggio, “but I think your insides are your best.”
Like the exciting “Ponyboy”, “Faceshopping” was an “Oil” era version of the harder, more industrial side of Sophie’s sound. The song’s sung, dead chant is something of a callback to “Lemonade,” but here the language of consumption and advertising merges even more subversively with reflections on identity and self-creation: “My face is the front of the business,” she proclaims. “I’m real when I buy my face.” In Vulture, Sophie mused, “It’s a running theme in this music – it questions prejudices about what is real and what is authentic. What’s natural and what’s unnatural and what’s artificial, in terms of music, in terms of gender, in terms of reality, I suppose. “
An insanely catchy, knowing Madonna nods (“immaterial girls, immaterial boys”), which also serves as a meditation on the connection between body and soul – what could be more typical of Sophie than that?
“Bipp (Autechre Remix)” (2021)
In 2015, Sophie established a personal credo for remixing her work: She didn’t want one, “unless it’s Autechre”. Five years later, the British electronic duo sent their take on Bipp back with the note: “Sorry, this is so late. I hope it’s still of use. “Just a few days before Sophie’s death, it was released along with a previously unpublished B-side of its own,” Unisil “. Slowly and sparingly, the remix is a loving homage to two of her musical heroes and proof that even Sophie’s earliest work still sounds like the future.